Plans to shut down two prisons and cut back resources at several others have been described by Labour as nonsense.

The Department of Corrections today announced that Wellington and New Plymouth prisons will close, as well as some units in Arohata, Rolleston, Tongariro/Rangipo and Waikeria prisons.

Auckland Prison's East Division, which houses prisoners in maximum security, and Invercargill Prison's West Wing would be refurbished.

Corrections' chief executive Ray Smith said staff at affected closing prisons would be largely transferred to other roles in the same prison or to nearby prisons.


"Where possible, staff would keep positions with the Department of Corrections.''

Every attempt would be made to keep inmates in prisons close to their families, he said.

The planned changes will take place throughout the year, and consultation with staff began today.

Prime Minister John Key confirmed earlier this week that prisons would be closed, and their services replaced by a new privately run facility at Wiri, near Auckland.

Labour justice spokesman Charles Chauvel today described the plan to shut down the regional prisons and focus resources at Wiri prison as "nonsensical''.

Mr Chauvel said the Government was intending to commit nearly $1 billion over the next 25 years to the jail, despite prisoner numbers being 3000 below what had been forecast, and with 1200 prison beds across the country currently sitting empty.

"This will see prisoners relocated away from families and communities, possibly jeopardising their rehabilitation. It makes no sense.''

Mr Chauvel said a progressive programme that allowed old institutions to close, and provided for existing facilities to be modernised, was the right thing to do.


"The wrong thing to do is to add unnecessary capacity to the Corrections system,'' he said.

"It is especially irresponsible to do this by locking in a quarter of a century-long subsidy to private sector companies without having any way to forecast what ongoing demand will be for prison beds over that period.''